Any follower of Darren Cross’ work would agree that he’s an artist whose music is almost entirely impossible to categorise. While Gerling helped fuse the alt-rock and electronic genres, his later work – including a role as the brains behind The E.L.F. and one half of Jep And Dep – saw his work explore further avenues, with the former focusing on dance music, and the latter a hauntingly beautiful mix of indie-folk created with bandmate Jessica Cassar.
However, Cross is nothing if not a prolific individual, and in recent years, he’s complemented the above with his own solo career, with records such as _Xantastic and Peacer continuing his indefinable style. Last year, he changed things up once again, offering up the majestic instrumental record Ecstatic Racquet under his D.C Cross moniker, before knocking it out of the park again with April’s Terabithian.
Now Cross is back with another solo record – his 12th, and in true fashion, it’s unlike anything his fans have ever heard him deliver. First teased in early October as the beginning of his “Brian Wilson phase”, a series of promotional images indicated that his new record – titled Keeping Up? – would in fact be his most eclectic to date.
Recorded across 16-hour days in his studio and described as “nostalgia inducing electronic music” made utilising “an obsolete computer, [a] drum machine and OSX 10.8.5”, both its description and content are designed to create an experience that yearns for an earlier time, when music was simple, guitars were less than prominent, analogue technology was king, and the present as we know it was still the mythical concept known as “the future”. In fact, Cross himself notes that the concept behind the album was “the future has past”.
In much the same way that Ecstatic Racquet and Terabithian subverted the expectations of Cross’ fans by way of being a record wholly composed upon the guitar, Keeping Up? could be seen as something of the inverse, with a complete absence of guitars giving its creator the chance to flex his mastery of the digital.
At its core, Keeping Up? is an almost hour-long journey into the blissful ocean of nostalgia, with hazy instrumentation, vocoded vocals, and echoed drumbeats and electronic blips immersing the listener in a devastatingly unique, yet warmly familiar world of musical euphoria.
As previous albums have seen Cross inspired by other composers and style, much of this particular record seems to have been heavily inspired by the vaporwave genre that became heavily popular across the last decade. Characterised by the likes of smooth instrumentation, a nostalgic vibe, and a sense of surrealism, arguably the subgenre’s most iconic release is that of Macintosh Plus’ Floral Shoppe. Given his use of a Mac in the record’s construction, and the inclusion of a track named “Conputer Shoppe”, it’s clear that the influence of vaporwave was kept firmly in mind during the composition of Keeping Up?.
Of course, while the album’s hazy nature almost gives it a sense of seriousness, the mood is occasionally lightened from time to time, and no more so than in “Informercial refund (sincere)”, which cheekily offers unsatisfied listeners a refund, and even helps to evoke stylistic comparisons to the likes of the great Boards of Canada (specifically, their 1998 track “One Very Important Thought”).
While some criticism may come by way of the repetitive nature of the record, this is easily dismissed by the mere fact of its ambition to create an album that is hypnotic at its core, and the very nature of music that is predominantly nostalgic.
Above all though, Keeping Up? is an immersive creation which manages to assert itself as an accomplished foray into the world of vaporwave for Darren Cross, all while maintaining a sense of humour that helps to balance things out. If anything, this record more than proves Cross’ mastery of all genres, and leaves the casual listener feeling excited about what else the future holds for this celebrated musical chameleon.
Darren Cross’ Keeping Up? is out now as a Bandcamp exclusive. For 24 hours from 7pm on Friday, November 6th, Bandcamp will be waiving their fees as part of their ongoing support for artists.